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Discovery of Paleolithic Cup markings on Rock surfaces in Kerala Dr Suvarna Nalapat (Founder and

Discovery of Paleolithic Cup markings on Rock surfaces in Kerala

Dr Suvarna Nalapat

(Founder and Managing Trustee of Dr Suvarna NalapatTrust for Education and Research )

Kerala occupies a very important place in the history of India , because of its vast sea coast, presence of Sahya Mountains which brings lot of seasonal rainfalls and biodiversity, forest goods , and the monsoons which have a clock work precision as Malabar Manual of William Logan has praised. The Asian Monsoons started linked to the uplift of Tibetan plateau , after collision of Indian subcontinent with rest of Asia , around 50 million years ago, according to Geologists. They became very strong around 8 million years ago, and between 15- 8 million years , the west coast of India due to continuous rhythmic monsoons developed an unprecedented biodiversity , which is seen nowhere else in the subcontinent. The first British Indian records call this the Nairyuthya maaruth ( Winds from the South west/South West Monsoon ) in Sanskrit language.

The primitive Paleolithic people of the subcontinent , living in the west coast watched the timely monsoons,its effects on them and their food, on their prosperity, trade and commerce. The regular observation of cyclical seasons and rains, of the lunisolar movements around a stellar clock, and its observation at night which was mandatory for the seagoing tribes of coastal areas developed star gazing and astronomy, and advanced Mathematics in Kerala. The trade and commerce of India based on spices,forest goods etc is multifactorial , and was developed by the Paleolithic period onwards by the

people. 1 Observation of earth and its environment, and making use of it for one’s survival is part of human being’s nature. Therefore , the people of the West coast must have been there from early Paleolithic times, watching the stellar maps, making its diagrammatic representations on rocks,caves and later on in temples. A detailed study of the history of Kerala based on temples and rock arts is undertaken by our Trust (Dr Suvarna NalapatTrust for Education and Research) with permission from the Devasom Boards , Archeological Socity of India ,Zamorins and concerned Temple committees and Authorities. Some of these were published online . 2,3,4 .

When did Paleolithic art start in Kerala? Many Archeologists and historians begin the journey from Edakkal Thovary caves . My journey also started there , in the 1980’s . 5 But there are several gaps in the history of the earliest inhabitation in Kerala and the earliest available cave and rock drawings. In my sojourn, I have collected a few relics, hitherto unnoticed and unreported and hence important for the students of history.

History of Paleolithic Rock Art:

Rock or Cave art can help us understand more about the ways of our early ancestors, how they hunted ,lived , ate, how they viewed and understood the world around them.

3 types of Rock Art:

1. Petroglyphs are carvings into stone surfaces, on part of the rock itself. The Reliefs evolved out

of this style . Petroglyphs are generally made by removing the surface of the rock, by

carving, scratching, drilling, or sculpting. The markings can be dyed or painted, or enhanced through polishing. Petroglyphs have been discovered all over the populated world. Some of these images have a special cultural and/or religious significance for the societies that created them. The most important, but mysterious, type of petroglyph is the cupule - a non-functional cup-shaped hole created by percussion in the horizontal or vertical surface of a rock. By far the oldest art, discovered on every continent except Antarctica, and continued to be created throughout all three eras of the Stone Age. Cupules have also been referred to as "pits", "hollows", "cups", "cup marks" - even "pot-holes". Relief sculpture also appeared at a relatively early stage(23000 BCE)

2. 2. Pictographs (rock and cave painting) Paintings and carvings on rock surface and wall of caves. Could be subterranean or on surface of ground. Creation of monochrome or

polychrome images through the application of pigments, like carbon, manganese and various oxides. As pictographs are far less weather resistant than engravings, most surviving pictography is in the form of underground cave paintings, or outdoor markings under overhanging rock. Prehistoric artists began by painting with their fingers. Later, they used lumpy pigment crayons, or brushes constructed from animal hair or vegetable fibre. The most advanced pictographic techniques included spray painting, using reeds or specially hollowed bones.Colours were mineral, animal

or vegetable sources (eg. clay ochres, charcoal, manganese dioxide, calcium phosphate from crushed animal bone, carrot juice and berries, animal blood and urine). The most popular subjects were hunting scenes, which typically included pictures of bison, horses, reindeer, cattle and aurochs. Other creatures portrayed, included: lions, mammoths, wolves, foxes, hares, hyenas, fish, reptiles, and birds. By comparison, images of humans appear less frequently. Prehistoric painters also produced a significant amount of abstract art incorporating dots, lines, and other geometric motifs. cave paintings throughout the world include numerous symbols, ideograms, anthropomorphs and zoomorphs. Regarding these pictographical symbols, it is worth remembering that pictographs were the basis of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing, as well as the writing systems used in Ancient India, China, Sumeria, and Egypt.They are still used in Tribal Art .

3. Petroforms or Megaliths (art made by aligning or piling natural stones). (All the three

were found in Kerala. ) Megalithic rock art is best exemplified by the complex spiral engravings at the entrance of the Newgrange Neolithic passage Tomb , in Ireland.Megaliths are numerous in Kerala .

The most obvious characteristic of rock art (whether petroglyph or pictograph) is its "artistic" quality, but this is sometimes the most difficult attribute to establish. Take cupules, for instance. These cup-like hollows are the most ubiquitous and varied type of prehistoric human markings, yet archeologists and anthropologists remain baffled as to their meaning or significance. Many think that they are non-utilitarian , but it is not so. Cupules have cultural significance of some kind, After all, Rock art traditionally includes a wide variety of man-made markings, such as those created to mark/map territory (geocontourglyphs), pictorialize the stars, record events, or illustrate myths and other rituals.

Experts believe that the earliest recorded rock art is the Bimbektha petroglyph art in Central India, a series of 10 cupules and an engraving, which were uncovered during the 1990s in a quartzite rock shelter at Bhimbetka. These markings date from at least 290,000 BCE but are likely to be much older (c.700,000 BCE or earlier).The present series of Cupules in Palghat District, Kerala state ,discovered by me, in 2013 , contains more than 50 cupoles forming a huge Reptile figure. This must be as old as that of Bimbektha .

Pre-Historic Art Timeline:

1. 1 Paleolithic (2,500,000 - 3,000- BCE)

Lower Paleolithic (2,500,000 - 200,000 BCE) Lower Paleolithic Rock Art associated with very primitive petroglyphs, like cupules and crude engravings Major works include:

Auditorium Cave Petroglyphs, Bhimbetka (290,000-700,000 BCE) Auditorium Rock Shelter, Madhya Pradesh, Central India

Daraki-Chattan Cave Petroglyphs (290,000-700,000 BCE) Indragarh Hill, Madhya Pradesh, Central India.

It is to this group my collection from Kerala is being added. Old Stone Age - 2.5 million to

15,000 years ago - a time period that spans 95% of human history) - the age in which stone tools were made by chipping or flaking.

Lower Paleolithic (2.5 million – 200,000 years ago). The main hominins who existed during this period were:

Homo habilis from 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago (earliest tool-maker and possible speaker), Homo erectus from 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago (the species thought to have moved out of Africa - tool maker, speaker, weapon-user, fire-user and eater of cooked food) & Homo sapiens archaic from 400 to 200 thousand years ago; That means, the earliest inhabitant of west coast of India (Kerala) belonged to these early archaic Homosapiens , judging from the Cupola (cupmarks) made on rock surface.

The Stone Age in a particular region ended with evidence of the earliest known metal implements, and generally ends between 6,000 and 4,000


Middle Paleolithic (200,000 - 40,000 BCE) Upper Paleolithic (40,000-10,000 BCE)

MESOLITHIC ERA (Europe: c.10,000 - 4,000 BCE)

In India

Bhimbetka Rock Paintings and Stencilled Images (c.9,000-7,000 BCE) Madhya Pradesh, India

Pachmari Hills Rock Paintings (c.9,000–3,000 BCE) Satpura Range of Central India

Similar paintings exist in South India.One of the earliest paintings of a Black man (Krishna) with a flute , painted on the belly of a Vessel with handle, and a spout with a goat’s face (Aja/Brahman) depicting a Krishnamesha was discovered in my study on rock surface of Parouli in Thrissur District where lot of polished cupmarkings and stylized art form also co- exist .This shows a continuity of Lower Paleolithic to Mesolithic habitation of the geographic area by early people.

3. NEOLITHIC ERA (Europe: c.4,000 - 2,000 BCE)

Cupmarks (Cupules) the oldest art form

At the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic era of prehistory (from 40,000 BCE onwards), fine arts appeared in caves and Rock surfaces in many parts of the world. Drawn or carved on the walls and ceilings of caves /rock surfaces (parietal art) became more integrated into settlements and daily life and later portable sculptures (mobiliary art), often of small female "venus figurines", animals, or pictures and symbols started to appear. Since one cannot move the fixed art on rock and cave walls , they are more reliable than the mobiliary art , which travels from place to place.

The oldest known rock art is the cup marking. Found on every continent except Antarctica ,these

earliest form of art , is called the "cupule", by archeologist Robert G. Bednarikto.Description of a cupule is: simple, round hemispheric cavities that used to be known as "pits", "hollows", "cups", "cupels", "cup stones", "pitmarks", "cup marks" - even "pot-holes". The oldest known art dating from at least 290,000 BCE is the series of Cupules discovered an ancient quartzite cave called Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh (north central India). The cave is a 25m long horizontal cave and in the centre stands an enormous boulder called Chief's Rock (2.5m high and

3.4m wide).

In 1990, nine cupules with evidence of a red pigment were found on Chief's Rock and in 1991a further cupule was found with meandering line next to it. These were covered by deposits from the Acheulian and later periods, so allowing dating. However later research by other dating methods (micro-erosion analysis) suggested that these cupules were made 700,000 years ago.

Fig 1 Kuppikkivi Hartola cupmarks called Sacrificial stones .Finland.for comparison with Cup marks at Muthalamada,Palghat ( shown in Figures 3 and 4).


A study by Genevieve von Petzinger (University of Victoria) has identified 26 symbols 7 repeatedly appear as prehistoric art over 25,000 years over four continents


26 Repetitive symbols used in Rock Art according to Genevieve von Petzinger ( These are seen in IVC Harappan artefacts as well as in Kerala Temple sites which I have reported earlier )

Aviform Circle. Clayform Cordiform Crosshatch Cruciform Cupule Dot Finger-Flute Flabelliform
Half circle Line Negative hand Positive hand Open angle Oval Pectiform Penniform Quadrangle Reniform Scalariform
Half circle
Negative hand
Positive hand
Open angle
Spiral Tectiform Triangle Zigzag

Discovery in Kerala :

1.Muthalamada Panjayath,Palghat District:There are a series of Cupmarkings fairly big and of more or less uniform size, and the manmade nature and its significance as a stellar map is evident. The oldest stellar map of India is a Simsumaara ( A Dolphin/or more correctly a Crocodile or Muthala. The Cupolas taken together gives a shape of a Reptile resembling a Crocodile and the very name of the village being Muthalamada , and its location in the vicinity of ancient Govindapura and Kaachaamkurichi(Vishnu temple of Kasyapa) shows the pictograph of the Muthala is denoting the oldest stellar map of Simsumara . Figures 3 and 4 . Figure 3 and 4 from Muthalamada show series of cupolas made into an animal figure (Combination of Pectroglyph and a Pictograph.) Figures 5 and 6 from Parouli also show combination of Petrogliph cupola and pictograph , and is more polished with a definite form and a crystalline globule as the eye of the Simsumara pictograph indicating a later evolution than the Muthalamada one.

 2.Parouli .Thrissur District Here also the largest cupola, believed to be Bheema’s feet by

2.Parouli .Thrissur District Here also the largest cupola, believed to be Bheema’s feet by local people, on close scrutiny has shape of a Reptile, and the mouth is carved , the eye is made of a sparkling radiant material resembling a Lens. (Figure 6) .The artistic symbolism of Simsumara as the stellar map is evident. The site is said to where Panchali and her five consorts spent a few days during their exile. There are separate bathing ghats with perennial water bodies for all 6 of them, and several cupolas , not in a series but singly, one of them said to be the feet of Bheema .( Pictures 5 and 6 . Fig 7 and 8 shows the earliest painting of Krishna on vessel on same rock surface co-existing with Cupules demonstrating continuity of Lower Paleolithic and Mesolithic inhabitation at same site.)

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Significance of our Discovery and conclusion :  1 Hitherto such series of Cupola ,

Significance of our Discovery and conclusion:

1 Hitherto such series of Cupola , as seen at Muthalamada , were not discovered in Kerala.

2 Age of the Cupola must be the same as that of series of Cupolas seen in Bhimbetka, (also in India) which is very significant.The people of Central and South India were co-existing and were the same people ethnically and culturally can be assumed from this.

3. As experts have guessed rightly, Cupolas as a series signify a stellar map, since in Kerala, the most ancient Incarnation as cosmic Stellar Simsumara is seen in the relic and the name of the village and its proximity to Vishnu shrine related to oldest of the Saptharshi (7 sages/stars of the Big bear) Kasyapa also points to this clue.

4. Bheembektha and Bheemapada in Parouli have same legendary figure Bheema related to it. Presence of a Reptile related to Serpent/Crocodile in Muthalamada (Palghat) and Parouli (Thrissur) and the cupolas means people of Kerala , on west coast of Kerala have been watching/observing/stargazing from lower Paleolithic times and there was a continuity of culture and a centralized educational system spanning from Central to South India .

5. The carvings on rock , of Dinosaur like Reptiles have been identified by the same author at different sites in Kerala. The age of rock as Precambrean Archean , the age of art as Lower Paleolithic and continous to Mesolithic period, the presence of Perumal Kallar genes in South India are all pointing to the most ancient history of Dakshinapatha (South India) and the role of the west coast , being the most biodiverse and fertile area in the Monsoon shadow in evolution of life and human culture has to be considered with more care ,diligence and open mind.



Dr Suvarna Nalapat

2 ;Dr Suvarna Nalapat


continuity-of-culture; Dr Suvarna Nalapat


Iconography-1-Dr-Suvarna-Nalapat-Trust Dr Suvarna Nalapat

5. Kerala Dr Suvarna Nalapat


7 Genevieve von Petzinger petzinger/